Attention control in sport: attentional approaches

There are several key psychological aspects for an athlete to be good at what he or she does. The self-confidence that one has in oneself and in situations, motivation, stress, level of activation, emotional regulation and attention, are the most important. I will talk about the latter in today’s article.

All these psychological variables exert a direct and indirect influence on each other. For example, motivation can affect attention or emphasize self-confidence. So you have to keep them in mind so that an athlete can express the best version of himself in the sport he is playing. There is good news: just like the tactical, technical or physical aspect, psychological variables can be trained.

What does attention depend on?

One of the main goals of sports psychology is the study of the variables that influence sports performance. The question has been approached from different approaches: reports from athletes and coaches, research focused on specific psychological variables and observations in the field.

In terms of attention, we can say that it is a decisive variable to be able to detect and interpret the demands of each situationAnd this proper mindfulness control will improve decision making. Attention depends, at least in part, on the athlete’s level of activation (more activation, more attentional narrowing), the ability to pay attention to the relevant stimuli at the moment, and the ability to control them. variables that interfere at any given time. On the other hand, the control of the interfering variables makes it possible to control the level of activation.

How does attention affect athletic performance?

In general, good attentional control will positively affect athlete performance in training and in competition, it is therefore decisive for:

  • receive information
  • Be alert and focused
  • Analyze the data
  • to take decisions
  • Act on time
  • Act with precision

A case study on the importance of psychological variables in sports performance

To illustrate the importance of psychological variables (and the interplay between them), especially attention, I’ll give you an example. Suppose a goalkeeper had an unfortunate play out of a corner while playing an important game, which cost him a goal in the first game of the second half, so his team lost by one. goal.

As a result of this error, his self-confidence in the corners is diminished by the criticism he has received from his teammates, And there are still 35 minutes to play. This event affects his activation level and, in turn, his attention, as in the following corner serves, he arrives late to all the neglected balls. On the other hand, when crosses are the result of an elaborate play, the goalkeeper arrives on time. This is because your attention is focused on the mistake you made (which is called internal attention) when you need to be aware of the stimuli that are occurring in the game (external attention).

Attentional approaches: direction and extent of attention

Considering the above case, we can observe that there are different attentional approaches. Knowing them and changing them if necessary will increase athletic performance. This means that the athlete must carefully and correctly select what to pay attention to at all times, in order for his performance to be appropriate.

There are four attentional dimensions in which different stimuli and responses are found that an athlete might respond to. These dimensions can be classified and combined between two variables: direction and amplitude.

The direction of attention

The direction of care refers to internal and external care. Internal attention is when an athlete focuses on aspects that take place in their own body (Thoughts, self-talk, sensations or movements). External attention refers to when an athlete is focusing on problems beyond his control. In other words, what is going on around them.

Internal attention is positive for: learning and developing skills (and putting them into practice); analyzing one’s own performance, working in the imagination, controlling thoughts or sensations that may favor or hinder performance, etc.

External attention is useful when it is necessary to pay attention to the movement of rivals in a match, when it is necessary to follow the instructions of the coach, etc.

The breadth of attention

Not only the direction in which an athlete focuses their attention is important, but also the width, which can be wide or narrow.

Great attention this will allow the athlete to take into account a greater number of stimuli. Reduced attention will allow greater concentration. For example, wide attention can be helpful in learning complex skills with different movements at the same time that they need to be coordinated. For its part, reduced attention can be useful for greater precision in execution.

Combination of different alternatives

These alternatives combine to form different types of attentional approaches:

Internal reduction: Attention is focused on a small number of stimuli or responses that take place in the athlete’s body. For example, when a basketball player tries to improve his technique to pump the ball, because he has to focus on the movements and not on the basket (i.e. whether he is right or not).

Internally: Attention is focused on a wide range of stimuli or responses that take place in the athlete’s body. For example, when a player analyzes what happened in the last competition. You should use it when you are not in active competition and have time to analyze.

External-reduced: Attention is focused on a small number of stimuli outside the athlete. For example, focus on the basket when going to throw a basketball free throw.

At the external level: Attention is focused on a wide range of stimuli outside of the athlete. For example, a footballer when making a counterattack and must observe a teammate’s best position to pass.

Attention problems in sport

Each task requires a different attentional approach, and improper use will compromise an athlete’s peak performance. Sometimes this can be due to a sensory deficit, but when it does not occur the cause can be poor learning (and therefore misuse), excessive information at the same time, interfering cognitive activity (for example, bad past experience), deficits or excesses in the level of activation, or interfering attentional conditions (eg, boos from a rival audience).

In order to correct these problems related to the attention of athletes, the intervention can focus on two possible solutions. On the one hand, the training of athletes in attentional skills. On the other hand, the environmental manipulation by coaches of relevant stimuli (eg giving fewer instructions at a given time). In this way, proper attentional control can be achieved.

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